“The key to success is not doing more; it’s about doing more of what matters.” — Gary Keller
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You can learn how to conquer overwhelm with practical strategies and insights to help you effectively manage feelings of overwhelm in work and life.
Are you feeling overwhelmed?
You know the feeling when your to-do list seems never-ending, your mind races with tasks, and the weight of responsibilities bears down on you, leaving you frazzled and anxious.
How can you overcome overwhelm and achieve your most compelling goals?
This article is chunked up into small sections for a reason. So you can take little steps. But it’s also all on a page for a reason. It can be very difficult to pull the big picture strategy of overwhelm all together.
I’m sharing what I’ve learned as a high-performance coach at Microsoft for more than two decades of helping people deal with burnout, overwhelm, and the perpetual challenge of too much to do and not enough time.
Feeling overwhelmed is a particularly difficult challenge because the more behind you feel, the more behind you get.
And the most insidious and ironic thing is, the more behind you get, the more you take on and perpetuate the problem.
In this article, I show you how to break the loops, overcome overwhelm, and achieve your most compelling goals.
How To Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed?
Have you learned to deal with constantly feeling overwhelmed in a sustainable way?
Before we dive into the thick of things, I want to as precisely as possible, summarize how to think and tackle overwhelm.
We get overwhelmed because we take on too much that we should have said “no” to.
We fill our plate with things that drain us instead of energizing us. We don’t put boundaries around our time and work.
And, perhaps most importantly, we don’t transition well between tasks or activities where we should take a break to reset and rejuvenate before switching into what’s next.
Of course, when we frame the problem this way, the solution to how to deal with constantly feeling overwhelmed becomes clearer.
We learn how to deal with constantly feeling overwhelmed when we establish a better morning routine, master our transition rejuvenation moments, and we focus on fewer things on our plate that matter.
And across the board, we get better when we practice our energy management and stress skills in the form of focus, breath work, and mindfulness.
What Does Overwhelmed Mean?
What does overwhelmed mean? We hear it all the time, but do we know how deep it really is?
“Overwhelmed” is an adjective used to describe an emotional and psychological state in which you feel excessively burdened or inundated by the demands, tasks, or emotions you are facing.
It’s the sensation of being pushed beyond your capacity to effectively manage or cope with the situation at hand.
When you feel overwhelmed, you often perceive that you have an unmanageable volume of responsibilities, obligations, or challenges to address.
This sense of being inundated can manifest as stress, anxiety, or even a feeling of helplessness. It’s as if the weight of these demands surpasses your ability to keep up and maintain a sense of balance in their life.
Overwhelm can occur in various contexts, including work-related stress, personal life challenges, or emotional upheaval.
You need to recognize the signs of overwhelm and employ strategies to alleviate it, as prolonged periods of overwhelm can have adverse effects on your well-being and productivity.
Why Overwhelm is Such a Big Deal
It can happen to anyone. Even if it’s not for you, what you learn about overwhelm can help you help others as we all try to find our sustainable pace in the human race of school, work, and life.
Overwhelm is a significant issue because it can have profound physical, mental, and emotional effects on individuals.
It hampers productivity, disrupts focus, and leads to burnout, impacting your overall well-being.
Moreover, chronic overwhelm can strain relationships and hinder personal growth, making it crucial to address and manage effectively to lead a balanced and fulfilling life.
As you can imagine life at Microsoft could get incredibly overwhelming. I had to learn several mindsets, skillsets, and toolset to help me learn how to manage overwhelm over the years.
The beauty though is that I found that when you really learn what causes overwhelm, you can address it with skill, much like how a skilled surgeon knows exactly where to apply their knife.
In this case, you apply your knowledge. After all, knowledge is power when you apply it.
What Causes Overwhelm?
It sounds simple but overwhelm often comes from taking on too much stuff that you know you should have said “no” to.
Getting overwhelmed often has multiple roots, and one of the fundamental causes is indeed taking on more than we can handle, even when we know we should have declined certain commitments.
It’s like stacking bricks on our shoulders, each representing a task or obligation that we carry willingly, even though it strains us.
Fear plays a significant role in this cycle of overwhelm.
Fear comes in the form of three kinds of pain avoidance:
- the fear of loss
- the fear of hardship or disappointment
- the fear of disaster
Ultimately, all these fears boil down to our deep-seated concern about experiencing pain.
The fear of loss might make us afraid of missing out on opportunities or connections, leading us to say “yes” when we should say “no.”
The fear of hardship or disappointment can drive us to overcommit to avoid the discomfort of letting others down or dealing with challenging situations.
Finally, the fear of disaster, the most extreme form, pushes us to accumulate tasks and responsibilities as a defense mechanism against imagined catastrophes, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of overwhelm.
12 Cognitive Impacts of Feeling Overwhelmed
Feeling overwhelmed can have significant cognitive impacts, affecting your ability to think clearly, make decisions, and perform tasks effectively.
Here are some cognitive impacts of overwhelm:
- Impaired Concentration: Overwhelm can lead to difficulty concentrating on tasks. Your mind may constantly race, making it challenging to focus on one thing at a time.
- Reduced Working Memory: Working memory is your ability to temporarily hold and manipulate information in your mind. Overwhelm can reduce this capacity, making it harder to juggle multiple tasks or remember important details.
- Poor Decision-Making: When overwhelmed, your ability to make decisions may suffer. You might struggle to weigh pros and cons or make choices based on rational thinking.
- Increased Forgetfulness: Overwhelm can lead to forgetfulness, causing you to overlook appointments, deadlines, or important information.
- Slower Processing Speed: Your cognitive processing speed may decrease when you’re overwhelmed, leading to delays in responding to stimuli or information.
- Difficulty Problem-Solving: Complex problem-solving can become more challenging, as overwhelm can cloud your thinking and make it harder to find creative solutions.
- Negative Self-Talk: Overwhelm often involves negative self-talk, self-doubt, and rumination, which can further impede cognitive functioning and lead to a cycle of stress.
- Ineffective Multitasking: While some people believe they are good multitaskers, overwhelm can reduce your ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, leading to errors and inefficiencies.
- Impaired Attention: Overwhelm can result in heightened distractibility, making it easier to get sidetracked by minor disruptions or external stimuli.
- Reduced Cognitive Flexibility: Cognitive flexibility involves adapting to new information or changing circumstances. Overwhelm can lead to rigid thinking and resistance to change.
- Difficulty Organizing Thoughts: You may struggle to organize your thoughts coherently, making it challenging to communicate your ideas or express yourself clearly.
- Increased Mental Fatigue: Overwhelm can lead to mental exhaustion, which further impairs cognitive functioning and leaves you feeling drained.
These cognitive impacts can have a profound effect on your daily life, work, and relationships.
Recognizing when you are overwhelmed and taking steps to manage stress and regain cognitive clarity is essential for maintaining overall well-being and productivity.
Techniques like mindfulness, stress management, setting priorities, and seeking support can help mitigate the cognitive effects of overwhelm.
How Do You Know When You are Overwhelmed?
Feeling overwhelmed is a common experience that can manifest differently for each person. Recognizing when you are feeling overwhelmed is important so that you can take steps to address and manage these feelings.
Here are some signs and indicators that you may be feeling overwhelmed:
- Heightened Stress: You may notice an increase in your stress levels. You might feel tense, irritable, or anxious for an extended period.
- Physical Symptoms: Overwhelm can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, digestive issues, or even rapid heartbeat.
- Difficulty Concentrating: You might find it challenging to concentrate on tasks, make decisions, or think clearly.
- Procrastination: Feeling overwhelmed can lead to procrastination as you may avoid tasks due to the anxiety they provoke.
- Increased Irritability: You may become easily annoyed or frustrated with minor inconveniences or stressors.
- Sleep Disturbances: Overwhelm can interfere with your sleep patterns, causing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Change in Appetite: Some people may experience changes in their eating habits, either eating more or losing their appetite when overwhelmed.
- Withdrawal: You might withdraw from social activities or isolate yourself from others.
- Negative Self-Talk: Overwhelm often involves negative self-talk and self-doubt. You may have thoughts like, “I can’t handle this,” or “I’m a failure.”
- Loss of Interest: You may lose interest in activities or hobbies you usually enjoy.
- Increased Sensitivity: You might become more sensitive to sensory stimuli, such as noise, light, or crowds.
- Feeling Exhausted: Overwhelm can leave you feeling mentally and physically exhausted, even after a full night’s sleep.
- Overcommitting: Taking on too many tasks or responsibilities can contribute to overwhelm as you struggle to balance everything.
It’s essential to pay attention to these signs and listen to your body and mind. If you notice several of these indicators, it’s a sign that you may be feeling overwhelmed.
Recognizing it early allows you to take proactive steps to manage your stress and regain a sense of control.
This might involve practicing relaxation techniques, setting boundaries, seeking support from others, or seeking professional help if necessary.
What’s the Typical or Wrong Response to Feeling Overwhelmed?
Our typical response to feeling overwhelmed by increasing workloads is to double down on our efforts, often resorting to working longer hours and pushing ourselves harder.
Instead of taking a step back to examine why we feel this way and finding a more sustainable approach, we tend to dive deeper into the same patterns of behavior.
For example, let’s look at Lisa, who works at a tech company that recently went public. She’s juggling multiple projects and constantly worries about missing important emails. To cope, she starts waking up at 4 AM to get a head start on her work.
Similarly, Michael, a senior leader at a late-stage start-up, feels the weight of an ever-expanding to-do list. He believes that waking up early to tackle tasks is the solution, even though it feels like he’s trying to climb out of an ever-deepening hole.
Sarah, a co-founder of a growing startup, is also caught in the overwhelm trap as her company scales.
While it’s true that some high-profile executives like Apple’s Tim Cook wake up incredibly early to manage their responsibilities, most of us don’t have the same level of demands on our time.
Despite this, we still fall into the habit of overworking and early rising as a response to our feelings of overwhelm, often without questioning whether it’s the most effective or sustainable approach.
How To Deal with Overwhelm?
When we feel overwhelmed, it’s often because the world’s complexity has outpaced our ability to effectively deal with it.
It’s NOT a matter of intelligence but rather how well we can comprehend and navigate this complex world.
It’s like trying to juggle too many balls at once. Even the smartest juggler can’t keep them all in the air if there are simply too many to handle.
Like so many things in life, the key comes down to how we make sense of the world and how we operate in it.
Minimize and keep things simple.
To keep things simple, the main idea is to create a morning routine that helps you feel strong, rejuvenate yourself when you transition between major activities or tasks, and make sure you fill don’t overload your plate of things to do.
And to make sure that you do more of what gives you energy, and less of what takes it away.
Remember that both people and things can be catalysts or drains.
With that in mind, let’s take a wide-angle lens approach to nailing how to deal with the challenge of overwhelm.
8 Strategies for How To Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed
Implementing these approaches empowers you to regain control, minimize stress, and focus on what truly matters in both your personal and professional life.
To conquer overwhelm, adopt these eight key strategies.
As always, remember to keep Bruce Lee’s quote in mind as you work through the strategies:
“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” — Bruce Lee
Here are 8 key strategies for dealing with feeling overwhelm:
- Win Your Morning: Establish a morning routine to start your day with strength, energy, and focus. This sets the tone for a proactive and purposeful day, ensuring you begin with intent rather than chaos.
- Find Your Transition Rejuvenation Moments: Insert short breaks between major activities to refresh your mind and body. These moments help sharpen your focus and intentionality, making you more effective and present in your actions.
- Find the Main Culprit of Your Overwhelm: Identify the primary source of your overwhelm by asking yourself what one or two things, if magically removed, would alleviate 80% of your stress. Take action, whether it’s completing, breaking down, seeking help, or renegotiating tasks to regain control and reduce stress.
- Build Boundaries Around Your Time and Workload: Set boundaries by “time boxing” tasks, leaving the office at a specific time, and saying “no” to work that doesn’t align with your priorities. This protects your productivity and well-being.
- Create a “No” List: Safeguard your time and energy by declining activities that don’t align with your preferences and values. Replace unwanted commitments with activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Healthy boundaries are crucial for your overall well-being.
- Challenge Your Perfectionism: Embrace the 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) and recognize when “good” is indeed “good enough.” Don’t let perfectionism turn small tasks into overwhelming endeavors. Progress over perfection is key to reducing stress.
- Outsource or Delegate the Tasks that Drain You: Focus on activities that align with your strengths and delegate or outsource the rest. This not only saves time but also ensures tasks are handled efficiently.
- Challenge Your Assumptions: Identify and question hidden assumptions that contribute to feeling overwhelmed. These “Big Assumptions” may not be absolute truths and can keep you stuck in unproductive patterns. Debunking these beliefs broadens your perspective and reduces overwhelm.
By implementing these strategies and taking proactive steps, you can regain control, reduce stress, and tackle overwhelm with confidence and effectiveness.
Remember, it’s about simplifying, prioritizing, and focusing on what truly matters in both your personal and professional life.
#1. Win Your Mornings
You need a morning routine to start your day from a place of strength, energy, and focus.
I wrote about startup and shutdown routines in my book Getting Results the Agile Way because I found without them, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and fall into a place of chaos, confusion, and of course, overwhelm.
Think of your morning ritual as the warm-up before a big game. Just like athletes stretch, strategize, and mentally prepare before they step onto the field, your morning routine sets the tone for your day. Without it, you’re like a player thrown into the match without any warm-up.
A strong morning ritual is your game-changer. It’s your time for self-care, goal setting, and getting your head in the right space. It’s when you align your actions with your daily priorities.
By dedicating this time each morning, you’re essentially gearing up for a proactive and purposeful day. Instead of reacting to whatever life throws at you, you’re in control, ready to take on challenges with confidence.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your morning routine. It’s your playbook for the day, ensuring you start with purpose rather than chaos.
David Goggins, former Navy SEAL and author of Can’t Hurt Me, often emphasizes the importance of winning your morning as part of his motivational and self-improvement philosophy. Goggins is known for his discipline and mental toughness, and he believes that starting your day with a structured and productive morning routine can set the tone for success throughout the day.
#2. Find Your Transition Rejuvenation Moments
“Transition Rejuvenation Moments” involve inserting a brief pause between two significant activities to refresh your mind and body.
For instance, if you’ve just wrapped up your email work and are about to dive into creating a presentation, take a moment to close your eyes, take ten deep breaths, stretch, and grab a drink of water.
Then, return to your desk and ask yourself, “What’s my intention for this presentation?”
Similarly, after a long commute home, instead of rushing into the house, take five minutes to meditate in your car or go for a short walk around the block, focusing on deep breaths.
As you approach your home, reflect on your intention for the rest of the evening and consider the role you want to play for your family.
One of the best lessons I learned long ago was from Fergus O’Connell, author of How To Run Successful Projects III. Fergus suggested when you get home, imagine a tree out in the front where you hang your hat up.
That hat is all the unsolved problems or nagging issues of your day. You can always pick your hat back up tomorrow.
I used this simple mental hack for years at Microsoft, where I need a way to transition and rejuvenate.
It works wonders!
These simple breaks between activities help sharpen your focus and intentionality, making you more effective and present in your actions.
#3. Find the Main Culprit of Your Overwhelm
Figure out what’s causing most of your overwhelm, ask that magic question, and then take action, whether it’s finishing what you can, breaking it down, seeking help, or renegotiating.
It’s all about regaining control and reducing that overwhelming stress.
So, you’re feeling overwhelmed, and it feels like a big, tangled mess. The first thing to do is to figure out what’s causing most of this chaos. You want to pinpoint the main source, the thing that’s like the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
Step 1: Ask the Magic Question
Here’s where the magic happens. Ask yourself this question:
“What one or two things, if I could somehow magically make them disappear from my to-do list right now, would instantly make me feel 80% less stressed?”
Step 2: Recognize You Might Not Remove Them Entirely
Now, here’s the catch. You might not actually be able to completely remove these tasks or responsibilities.
They could be things you’re responsible for or tied to, like work projects or family duties. But that’s okay; we’re trying to identify the major stressors here.
Step 3: Take Action
If you’ve identified that big project that’s almost done, well, push through and finish it if you can. Sometimes, just crossing something off your list can give you a huge sense of relief.
But if it’s not about completing a single task, and it’s more about the sheer size of the task or project itself that’s causing the overwhelm, then it’s time to break it down.
Make it manageable. Imagine you’re eating an elephant; you do it one bite at a time.
And if it’s a workload that’s just too much for one person, don’t hesitate to ask for help or additional resources. Sometimes, we carry a heavy load because we’re afraid to ask for assistance. Don’t be.
Finally, if deadlines are what’s stressing you out, and they’re negotiable, have that conversation. Renegotiate those deadlines if it helps you regain some sanity.
#4. Build Boundaries Around Your Time and Workload
Establishing boundaries on your time and workload is like building a protective fence around your productivity. You can do this by employing tactics such as “time boxing,” where you allocate specific hours to work on tasks or projects, ensuring you don’t let them bleed into your entire day.
You might also decide on a fixed time to leave the office daily.
Additionally, don’t hesitate to say “no” to certain types of work that don’t align with your priorities.
Take Michael’s example; he used to spend a considerable amount of time acting as a mediator for team conflicts, which not only consumed his valuable time but also encouraged team members to rely on him to solve their issues.
By firmly declining these escalations and setting the expectation that team members should attempt to resolve conflicts independently first, Michael managed to free up more of his time and concentrate on what truly mattered to him, reducing distractions and increasing productivity.
#5. Create a “No” List to Deal with Feeling Overwhelmed
Another very effective strategy is to create a “No List” to help you better use your focus, energy, and time.
Creating a “No” list is a strategy aimed at setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in your life, particularly in terms of your time and commitments.
Here’s an explanation of this concept:
- Protecting Your Time and Space: Your time and personal space are valuable resources. It’s important to safeguard them to maintain your well-being and reduce stress. When you allow too many external demands on your time or space, it can lead to feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin.
- Sense of Control: Creating a “no” list is about taking control of your schedule and decisions. It means recognizing that you have the power to choose how you allocate your time and energy. This sense of control can be empowering and reduce feelings of helplessness.
- Prioritizing Your Preferences: Not everything you’re asked to do or invited to participate in will align with your preferences, values, or priorities. By saying “no” to activities or commitments that you don’t genuinely want to engage in, you free up time for things that you enjoy and that matter to you.
- Dread and Obligation: Many people feel obligated to say “yes” to invitations or requests even if they don’t genuinely want to participate. This can lead to a sense of dread and resentment. Creating a “no” list encourages you to acknowledge your true feelings and act accordingly.
- Replacing Unwanted Activities: Instead of obliging yourself to attend an event or do something you don’t want to do, the idea is to decline politely and replace that activity with something that brings you joy or relaxation. This proactive approach ensures that your time is spent on activities that positively contribute to your well-being.
- Healthy Boundaries: Establishing boundaries is essential for maintaining your mental and emotional health. Saying “no” when necessary is a way of setting clear boundaries and communicating your limits to others. It’s a sign of self-respect and self-care.
Creating a “no” list is a strategy for asserting control over your schedule, prioritizing activities that align with your preferences and values, and maintaining healthy boundaries.
It allows you to decline obligations or invitations that you don’t genuinely want to pursue and replace them with activities that contribute positively to your life and well-being.
#6. Challenge Your Perfectionism
Let’s talk about perfectionism, my friend. It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, it pushes us to do our best, but on the other, it can make simple tasks feel like climbing mountains.
I had to deal with perfectionism early on at Microsoft, because, it would have ended my career early. Instead, I had to embrace progress over perfection and realize that perfection is an illusion and ineffective and inefficient way to solve problems.
You see, perfectionism often leads us down a rabbit hole where we turn small tasks into Herculean endeavors. We aim for perfection, and in the process, we inadvertently invite procrastination and stress to our party.
Now, enter the 80/20 rule, also known as the ‘Pareto Principle.’ It’s a game-changer.
This principle says that, in many situations, 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. So, the key is knowing when ‘good’ is indeed ‘good enough.’
Here’s the trick: ask yourself, ‘What’s the marginal benefit of investing more time in this task or project?’ If the answer is ‘very little,’ then it’s time to pull the plug and call it a day.
Let’s take Sarah’s experience as an example. She realized that sometimes, chasing the perfect email response was a diminishing return game. Instead, she decided that ‘done’ was better than ‘perfect.’
This shift in mindset not only saved her time but also reduced her overwhelm. Plus, she learned that we can’t do everything perfectly, and that’s perfectly okay.
So, my friend, embrace the 80/20 rule, challenge your inner perfectionist, and remember that ‘good enough’ can be the path to greater productivity and less overwhelm.
#7. Outsource or Delegate the Tasks that Drain You If You Can
Outsourcing and delegating are practical ways to free up your time and focus on what matters most. Think about what activities align with your highest and best use of time, and then consider delegating or outsourcing the rest.
For example, if you find yourself spending hours cleaning your home or preparing meals, consider outsourcing these tasks to professionals who specialize in cleaning services or meal preparation.
This not only saves you time but also ensures that these tasks are done efficiently.
In the workplace, you can delegate certain responsibilities to team members or colleagues who are capable of handling them.
For instance, instead of personally attending every meeting, delegate attendance to a team member who can represent you effectively. If you’re managing multiple projects, consider delegating the management of some projects to trusted team members.
The key is to identify tasks that can be effectively handled by others and trust them to take care of those tasks. This allows you to focus your time and energy on strategic priorities and high-impact activities.
Remember, delegating and outsourcing are powerful tools for productivity and efficiency, so don’t hesitate to use them to your advantage.
#8. Challenge Your Assumptions
When overwhelm becomes your constant companion, it’s time to question those hidden assumptions.
They might be the culprits keeping you stuck in old habits.
Challenge them, and you’ll find more freedom and less overwhelm on the other side.
Here’s how to challenge your assumptions:
Step 1: Recognize Your Assumptions
When you’re feeling constantly overwhelmed, there’s a good chance that deep down, you’re carrying some assumptions. These assumptions are like hidden rules that drive your behaviors, and they’re usually not helping.
Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey call them “Big Assumptions.”
And it’s our “Big Assumptions”, or our “Immunity to Change” that gets in the way of our personal breakthroughs and transformations.
Step 2: Meet Lisa, Michael, and Sarah
Let’s put this in context with three people – Lisa, Michael, and Sarah. Lisa believed that if she ever dropped the ball on something, it would be a colossal failure, and there’d be no coming back from it.
Michael, on the other hand, had this belief that if he wasn’t there to help everyone all the time, he’d become irrelevant, and people would question his worth.
Sarah thought that if she lost control, her team would mess everything up, and the company would go belly-up.
Step 3: Realize They’re Not Absolute Truths
Now, here’s the kicker – these big assumptions might feel absolutely real to Lisa, Michael, and Sarah, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100% true.
These beliefs are like blinders; they keep you stuck in old patterns that make you feel overwhelmed.
Step 4: Debunk and Expand Your View
The real magic happens when you start debunking these assumptions over time. You challenge them. You ask yourself, “Is this belief really, absolutely, without a doubt true?”
For Lisa, she might realize that making a mistake doesn’t equate to total failure. Michael could find out that his value isn’t solely tied to helping others 24/7. And Sarah might learn that her team can handle things even if she loosens the reins a bit.
Step 5: Gain a Sense of Control
By doing this, you broaden your view of the world. It’s like taking off those blinders and suddenly seeing more opportunities and possibilities.
That’s when you start feeling less overwhelmed and gain a greater sense of control over your life.
5 Mindset Shifts to Deal with Constantly Feeling Overwhelmed
We covered a lot of ground, but now I want to hit pause, take a deep breath, and then look out from the balcony view.
Your mindset and your outlook or worldview set the stage for everything you do.
While we’ve already hit on some of these ideas, I want to take the time to wallow in each one these mindset strategy a bit deeper. The more you wallow the more you’ll gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for just how powerful they really are.
Shifting your mindset from feeling overwhelmed to effective involves several key mindset shifts:
- Challenge “Big Assumptions”: Identify and question deeply ingrained beliefs or assumptions that influence your behavior. By bringing these assumptions to conscious awareness and examining their validity, you can overcome self-imposed limitations and make positive changes in your life.
- Recognize When “Good” Is “Good Enough”: Understand that perfection is not always necessary. Use the 80/20 rule to determine when further effort doesn’t provide significant additional value. Focus on achieving high quality through iterations, experiments, and learning from others.
- Don’t Make Things Bigger Than They Are: Avoid letting small tasks or minor details pile up in your mind. Address them promptly to reduce mental clutter and the “zegarnik effect,” which adds to your mental load.
- Embrace “When Less is More”: Simplify and prioritize your tasks by identifying the vital few activities that have the most significant impact on your goals. Concentrate your efforts on these essential tasks, eliminate or delegate non-essential ones, and achieve better outcomes with less effort.
- Follow Your Energy: Pay attention to your gut feelings and energy levels. They can guide you toward tasks and activities that align with your growth and greatness, helping you make effective choices.
By applying these strategies, you can shift your mindset from being overwhelmed to becoming more effective in managing your tasks and achieving your goals.
Let’s walk through these in more detail…
#1. “Big Assumptions” or “Immunity to Change”
Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey are Harvard psychologists and authors who have made significant contributions to the field of adult development and personal transformation.
Their work often focuses on understanding how individuals can grow and develop throughout their lives, especially in the context of challenging assumptions and changing behavior.
They are known for their research on what they call “Big Assumptions” or “Immunity to Change.”
Big Assumptions, in the context of Kegan and Lahey’s work, refer to deeply ingrained beliefs or assumptions that individuals hold about themselves and the world around them.
These assumptions often operate on a subconscious level and can influence a person’s behavior, choices, and reactions to various situations. They are called “Big Assumptions” because they tend to be fundamental, overarching beliefs that have a significant impact on a person’s life.
Identifying and challenging these Big Assumptions is a central theme in Kegan and Lahey’s work.
By bringing these assumptions to conscious awareness and examining their validity, individuals can often overcome self-imposed limitations and make positive changes in their lives.
This process is sometimes referred to as “personal transformation” or “adaptive change,” and it involves expanding one’s understanding of themselves and the world to create new possibilities for growth and development.
#2. When is “Good” “Good Enough”?
“Good” becomes “good enough” when you’ve reached a point where further effort or improvement doesn’t provide significant additional value.
Many folks miss this crucial insight, especially when they aim to meet someone else’s standards or fall into the perfectionism trap.
Surprisingly, an uncommon yet powerful approach to determine what “good enough” is involves the 80/20 rule. By identifying that critical 20%, you can establish a clear boundary for when to stop and avoid overengineering or chasing an elusive ideal.
While perfection can be the enemy, “good” can sometimes hinder progress toward high quality.
It’s important to recognize that you can achieve high quality through iterations and incremental improvements over time.
By creating different versions, conducting experiments, and running tests, you can gather valuable insights and continuously enhance your work.
Also, seeking help and learning from others who have expertise can significantly contribute to reaching a higher level of quality.
The key is finding the right balance between “good enough” and the pursuit of excellence through continuous learning and improvement.
#3. Don’t Make Things Bigger Than They Are
Don’t let the small things pile up in your mind, by making them bigger than they are. You can keep things small.
And you can chunk bigger things down into smaller things. So instead of making mountains out of molehills, be the one who turns mountains into molehills and ascends them better, easier, faster than ever before.
It’s essential not to let small tasks or minor details hinder your progress on more significant matters.
Often, people tend to procrastinate on emails or small tasks, thinking they need to craft a comprehensive response, when a quick acknowledgment and a commitment to follow up later would suffice.
This delay in closing these small loops can create unnecessary mental clutter and the “zegarnik effect,” where your brain holds onto these open tasks, adding to your mental load, or “psychic weight”, as Scott Hanselman might put it.
By promptly addressing and clearing these small items, you can free up mental space and reduce the psychic weight that accumulates from unresolved matters.
This is why lists can be so helpful, too, to get the little things out of your mind, so you can declutter and organize your mind for better thoughts.
#4. When Less is More
“When Less is More” embodies the idea that simplicity and focus often lead to better outcomes than complexity and excess.
In the context of productivity and effectiveness, this principle aligns with Stephen Covey’s insight into the “vital few.” Covey suggests that rather than spreading our efforts thinly across numerous tasks, we should identify and prioritize the few critical activities that have the most significant impact on our goals.
Which few critical activities and outcomes?
That’s where the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle comes in again: “Roughly 80% of outcomes or effects result from 20% of causes or inputs.”
The concept emphasizes that by concentrating on these essential tasks and eliminating or delegating non-essential ones, we can achieve more meaningful results with less effort.
It’s about recognizing that not all tasks are created equal; some carry more weight and contribute disproportionately to our success.
But check with your stakeholders, and check with yourself. Your gut knows, or will learn fast, if you pay attention. The tugs in your gut or energy can be telling you something.
One of the greatest insights is when you learn when to follow your energy for your greatest growth and greatness.
Therefore, by honing in on these vital few tasks, we can streamline our efforts, reduce overwhelm, and maximize our productivity and effectiveness.
In essence, “When Less is More” encourages us to simplify, prioritize, and focus on what truly matters to achieve better outcomes in both our personal and professional lives.
#5. Follow Your Energy
“Follow Your Energy” encourages you to pay attention to your inner cues and intuition.
It suggests that your gut feelings and the level of enthusiasm or energy you have towards a particular task or interest can be significant indicators of where your true passions and growth opportunities lie.
However, you need to strike a balance when following your energy. While it’s valuable to pursue activities that genuinely excite and inspire you, it’s equally important not to overextend yourself.
Being too enthusiastic or passionate about multiple interests can lead to taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed.
To prevent self-imposed overwhelm, you may need to set boundaries around your time and workload. This means recognizing your limits and being mindful of how much you can realistically handle while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
While following your energy is valuable, it should be done within the bounds of what you can manage effectively without causing stress or burnout.
In essence, “Follow Your Energy” is about leveraging your natural enthusiasm and interests to guide your choices but also being responsible by setting boundaries and prioritizing self-care to maintain your well-being.
Begin Your Journey of Mastering Overwhelm
I want to leave you with an idea that can help you practice and implement all we’ve covered:
“Focus on what you control and let the rest go.”
That is perhaps one of the most important dilemmas to manage for life because the more you grow, the more you can take on, and it’s a game of finding your firm foundation while flexing what you are capable of.
Feeling overwhelmed is a universal challenge in our fast-paced, information-driven world.
But it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.
By understanding the roots of overwhelm, recognizing its symptoms, and embracing practical strategies, you can regain control, find your balance, and live a more purposeful life. Remember that you are not alone in this journey.
Many have faced and conquered overwhelm before you, and you too can emerge stronger, wiser, and better equipped to navigate the complexities of modern life.
The key is to start small, persistently apply the techniques that resonate with you, and never underestimate the transformative power of simple yet deliberate choices.
Overwhelm may knock on your door, but with the right tools and mindset, you can choose whether or not to invite it in.
Your path to a more peaceful, fulfilling, and intentional life begins with taking the first step. So, breathe deeply, prioritize wisely, and forge ahead with the confidence that you can overcome overwhelm and embrace the life you desire.
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